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Online Classes: Paying Someone Else to Be You

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As online learning has become a bigger part of both high school and college education, paid services have sprung up to take advantage of some of the holes in distance learning, such as the challenge of verifying a student's identity.  In an article in The Atlantic about the rise of online cheating, author Derek Newton reaches out to the company No Need to Study to find out exactly what it offers:

"When I asked for more information to be absolutely sure I understood the company’s services, the reply was crystal clear: 'We offer the services of a pool of experienced academic tutors to take classes and complete course work for our clients.' "

These fill-in services for students raise some interesting questions about what counts as education in the first place. In many cases, traditional education has moved online without much thought to whether that model was useful in the first place. Often there's no discussion about whether the course is even well suited to the virtual environment. If, as Newton suggests in his article, a student can spend $40,000 on this "surrogate option" as a way of receiving a Bachelor's degree, what is the real value of those courses in the first place? Perhaps valuing the end result or even the grades leading to the degree instead of the process is leading to a culture of academic dishonesty.

The internet has dramatically changed education, often for the better, but universities need to continue to question the value of what they are offering. What went wrong in the design of the learning experience that makes it so easy to cheat? And until those questions can be answered, should online learning without a professor and without any video conferencing checks be considered the same as brick and mortar college degrees?